The Water Lily Way

A school counselor's story of how to live, work and play…the water lily way


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The Need for Trauma Sensitive Schools

It’s estimated that 26% of children in the U.S. experience some kind of traumatic event before the age of 4.  Every year, more than five million children experience some extreme traumatic event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters, motor vehicle accidents, life threatening illness, physical abuse, sexual assault, witnessing domestic or community violence, kidnapping or death of a parent or loved one. Trauma can seriously impact our kids during their younger years and can cause severe health impacts later in life. In the classroom,  children can display traumatic stress through aggression, anxiety, defiance, perfectionism, and withdrawal. And here’s the biggie, signs of trauma often times look very similar to ADD, ADHD, OD & CD.

Trauma affects the whole child: the mind, body, and spirit. The impact of trauma on the brain significantly effects children, their learning, and their ability to form relationships with others. Our brains are developed to help us respond to threat. We often times hear this referred to as the “flight or fight response.” When we are confronted with a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation, our brain goes on alert and prepares the body to respond. The brain  does this by increasing the adrenaline in our system. When the threat is no longer there, our brain releases other chemicals such as cortisol to reduce the adrenaline in our bodies. This helps us to relax and to quiet down. We no longer need to fight or run, so our body adjusts accordingly. This is a normal, healthy reaction for many humans, but not for all.

In some situations where fighting or running is not possible, our brain may help us to freeze. In these situations our breathing may slow down and chemicals such as endorphins are released that help us to be very still or even to go numb, and therefore feel less pain. When a child is traumatized by extreme or repeated events of abuse (for example), chemical reactions in the body and brain can be switched on as if they have never been switched off. The brains of these children are often in a state of fear. This state of “fear activation” leads to changes in emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning because the brain is tricked into survival mode. A major negative outcome of this is that a traumatized child can constantly be in this state of fear. As a result, this can cause things such as hypervigilance, a focus on threat-related cues (non-verbal included), anxiety and behavioral impulsivity.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that some traumatized children really struggle controlling their anger and impulses, and maintaining their attention and connection in the classroom. It does not come easy for these children to regulate strong emotions and instead, they jump right to a reaction, with no time to think. While often times we see this through aggressive behaviors, children may also react by disengaging or dissociating. Both are adaptive human responses to traumatic experiences.

Young Student Crying in Class

So what can we do in our schools, and in our communities to help our children who have been victims of trauma? Here are only some of the approaches you can help integrate into your school to effectively meet the needs and reach out to this, unfortunately, vastly growing population of kiddo’s.

  • Teach coping skills (mindfulness techniques, journaling, how to ask for a break when needed, deep breathing, relaxation, etc.). Check out the “Mindfulness” section of this blog to see various resources and activities you can utilize at your school.
  • Teach self regulation skills.
  • Inform and educate other teachers, school staff, administrators and families on the impacts of trauma
  • Give children choices! Often traumatic events involve loss of control. You can help children feel safe by providing them with some choices or control when appropriate.
  • Provide these children with EXTRA support and encouragement.
  • Once again, educate others on trauma! Educate, educate, educate! Advocate, advocate, advocate! Recognize that behavioral problems may be related to trauma. Keep in mind that even the most disruptive behaviors can be driven by trauma-related anxiety.
  • Be sensitive to cues in the environment that may cause a reaction for a traumatized child.
  • Provide a safe space for the child to talk about the traumatic event or provide additional resources in the community for the child’s family.
  • While a traumatized child might not be eligible for special education, consider accommodations and modifications for the child to support academic success.

Helpful Websites:

This is obviously only a start to the ways we can promote trauma sensitivity in our schools. However, there are so many resources available today to help meet the needs of our kiddo’s who have experienced traumatic situations and as a result, have been impacted for life. It is our job to work together as a team with other educators, specialists and the families of traumatized children to see that these children are cared for, understood, and guided through their long journey in coping with their traumatic experience(s). Be an advocate, be an educator, be a leader and promote a trauma sensitive environment at your school.
One last thing….If you’re looking for a good summer read, I HIGHLY recommend “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Bruce D. Perry. Dr. Perry (child psychiatrist) discusses the various children he has worked with who have suffered from severe cases of abuse and neglect. I PROMISE you, your life will be changed after reading this book. You will come to new awarenesses and insights on the extreme impacts of trauma. The cases he presents are unimaginable….
-Jessica 🙂
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School Counseling Connections: Integrating the Outdoors into your School Counseling Program

 

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I think we can all advocate for kiddo’s needing time outdoors! Truly, we all can benefit from time spent outside and in nature. I may have a bit of Wisconsin spring fever right now, but as the weather continues getting nicer, I am challenging myself to find more and more activities that can be done with children out in the sunshine and fresh air. There are so many ways we can work with student’s outdoors as we would inside our school walls, however outdoor time may actually result in additional benefits for our young ones. For instance…

Exercise, movement, physical activity!
Playing outside provides children with something many children don’t get enough of anymore – exercise. Exercising while having fun is the best kind of exercise! Walk and talks can be exchanged for sitting in chairs with students during individual meetings. Team building activities can be utilized during classroom guidance and small groups. Check out the WLW pinterest to see specific team building exercises to use outdoors.

Stimulation of the Imagination
As expectations for students increase in our schools, our student’s imaginations, creativity and freedom of expression are decreasing. Our children are not discovering and experiencing things on their own, rather they are being shown, taught, and instructed. Likewise, growing up in a society that is so consumed in technology does not help with this challenge. Playing outside helps children develop their imagination, which is something that television, video games, computers, iPods, etc. can’t do. Children tend to feel more comfortable outdoors, which allows them to “invent and create things,” once again stimulating their imagination.

Improves self-confidence and social skills

Outdoor play encourages children to risk. Children try different experiences which they normally wouldn’t and grow to be stronger and more confident individuals as a result. Children feel a sense of safety outdoors, which allows them to feel in control and promotes autonomy. Group activities, games, and sports help children learn how to solve problems with their peers. They learn to work together, compromise and communicate with one another.

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Here are some different ways you can incorporate “the great outdoors” into your school counseling program:

  • Walk and talks: Why always sit in chairs with students? Going outdoors allows for exercise, fresh air and increases alertness. The outdoors brings a sense of calmness, relaxation and safety. Isn’t this what we hope to provide to our students as we build relationships with them? Walking side by side helps diminish any sense of hierarchy.
  • Take the sandtray outside!! Sit in the grass with a child as you talk and play with the sand (really, any game/toy/etc. of your choice could be taken outdoors… 🙂 )
  • Journal time: Students may find calmness in journaling outdoors. Allowing for free time to journal at the beginning or end of time with a student(s) encourages autonomy, creativity and independence.
  • Yoga! There is no better place to practice yoga than out in nature…Take your class or group outdoors and see how the change in environment impacts the student’s practice.
  • Termination: For your last session with a student or group of students, encourage students to find rocks out in the school yard to decorate. With either paint/marker have them write words that describe what they learned from your time together, or what they are taking with them as a result of your time together .
  • Deep breathing/mindfulness with bubbles! Check out the link for a fun and soothing activity using bubbles.
  • Planting a flower/plant/etc. with a student or a group of student’s to increase cohesiveness and support the relationship(s) being built.
  • Sidewalk chalk: Sidewalk chalk can replace all sorts of art therapy activities that are typically done “indoors.”

Examples include:

  1. Encouraging students to write strengths/things they like about themselves(This could be done over the course of a day or two with multiple students/groups. It could be an empowering area that would be on showcase for all students in the school to see, names not included obviously.)
  2. Have students draw how they are feeling and suggest that different colors demonstrate different feelings/emotions.
  3. Free draw!
  4. Hopscotch! Why not play a game while chatting away?!

Now let’s hope for some sunshine and enjoyable spring temps the rest of the week… 🙂 -Jessica

 

 

 

 

 


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Tuesday Thoughts: The Power of Playdoh!

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Happy rainy Tuesday! The perfect day for playdoh! 🙂

Who doesn’t LOVE playdoh?? Kid’s ESPECIALLY love squeezing and smashing this miracle substance in their hands! Playdoh can be used in so many different ways when working with kids. Playdoh encourages children to tap into their unconscious mind as it is used as an art expression. Just as well, when engaging in more of a nondirective style of play with children, play-doh allows children to be in control (something they often don’t experience in their world!). Playdoh can support children in building self-esteem, express their emotions and help them  sharing happenings in their lives. Here are some different activities that incorporate using playdoh when working with your kiddos:

  •  Expressing Emotions: Have children create a person out of playdoh. Talk about different emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, anxiousness, sadness, etc.  Ask children to think of a time when you felt a certain feeling. For each feeling, have the student place a different color of playdoh on the place in their body where they felt that emotion (ex. placing blue playdoh on the figure’s stomach if the child’s stomach hurts when they were anxious). Once done discussing different emotions, reflect on importance of expressing these emotions and not letting them bottle up inside to a point of where our bodies ache. Talk about healthy ways to express these emotions while at school, home, out with friends, etc.
  • Playdoh Personalities: Have children create an animal that they believe has the same “personality” as their own. After child has created the animal, discuss why they think the animal’s personality is like their personality.
  • Relaxation: Giving kiddo’s playdoh to fidget with can help them relax! Playdoh can also help kids to “open up” and feel more comfortable to talk! Playdoh is something that most kids are familiar with, and can help them feel safe and in control.
  • Anger release: Anger can help children release built up anger. Like the “importance of expressing emotions” activity, you can talk with a child about the significance in expressing emotions in healthy ways. You can encourage the child to say something he/she is angry about and then allow them to “smash” the playdoh as a way to release their anger. It may be beneficial to talk about the difference in “hitting” playdoh versus hitting others so that the child understands appropriate and inappropriate behaviors when expressing emotions. Another activity I found on “Creativity in Therapy” involves taping a target on a wall. The child can then throw the playdog at the target as another way to express and release anger in a healthy manner.
  • Control: Here is a cute activity to teach kids about things we can and can not control using playdoh and a rock. Yes, a rock! Find it on Callie’s School Counseling Website by simply scrolling down to the activity that says Playdoh.
  • Positive Self Talk: Your mind is playdoh! Check it out on Kids Relaxation.
  • Clay sculpture and poem
  • Playdoh stress balls
  • Playdoh printable mats
  • Creativity with Playdoh: This is a fun website that talks about the benefits of using playdoh w/kids & also different materials you can combine with playdoh to get creative with playdoh play. Check it out at Imagination Tree.com

 

 

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Bucket Filling!

I’m LOVING this book: How Full is Your Bucket? Kids REALLY seem to connect with the content and the meaning behind the story. The real test, as we know, will be to see if they can apply it when they’re interacting with their peers, teachers, and families… TBD! 😉

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I have been using this book when working individually with kiddo’s, although you could totally use this for a small groups or for an entire class when teaching a lesson. We’ve had requests from teachers to work with numerous girls on friendship skills. How Full is Your Bucket has been a great way to connect with these girls and cover friendship skills such as facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, expression of feelings, inclusion, etc. It typically has been taking me one session just to read the book and talk about it briefly with the student. I usually take turns reading the book with the student (dependent upon age), and conversation evolves as we make our way through. Some of the topics/questions we talk about throughout the story include:

-Who was a bucket dipper? Why?

-How do the character’s feel when their bucket is dipped into? When their bucket is empty?

-Has your bucket ever been dipped into? Emptied? When? How did you feel?

-Who was a bucket filler? Why?

-How can we fill others buckets? How can we fill our own buckets?

-How do we feel when our buckets are full? How did the character’s in the story feel what their buckets were full?

-What can we do at school to be bucker fillers? In the classroom? At recess? At home?

 

When we meet again for a second time, we review what we learned about being bucket dippers and bucket fillers by writing different examples out on a dry erase board or sheet of paper. After, we each create some piece of small artwork, letter, etc. for another person in hopes to fill their bucket! When I meet with the student for the third time, we once again review bucket dipping and filling, and talk about how it felt to fill someone else’s bucket. Here are some other GREAT options of ways to incorporate “bucket filling” when working individually with kiddos, in small groups or in a classroom!

 

Bucket Filling Poem: http://www.pinterest.com/jendemfit/school-bucket-filler-activities/

Bucket Filler Worksheet http://www.hopkinshoppinhappenings.com/2012/10/bucket-filling-freebie.html

Lessons/Ideas from Scholastic http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2010/04/are-your-students-bucket-fillers

Bucket Filling Journal (From http://www.bucketfillers101.com)

Bucket Filling Paper Bucket

Bucket Filling Coloring Sheet

Bucket Filling Form (From http://www.bainbridgeclass.com/files.htm)

Bucket Filling Sign

How Full is Your Bucket? On You-Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=A5R6-2m_qHk

There are tons of other activities and lessons out there -pinterest has lots of great ideas from other educators and parents.

 

Have fun spreading the bucket filling cheer! 🙂

-Jessica

 

 


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Monday Mindfulness: St. Patrick’s Day Relaxation Story for Kids

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (almost, right?)!

Here’s a cute St. Patty’s day riddle for you & your students:

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Irish!
Irish Who?
Irish you a happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🙂

I felt lucky to find this perfect relaxation story for this week’s Monday Mindfulness (coming to you a day early so you can hopefully sneak it into your day tomorrow). What a great way to get in a little relaxation with your students tomorrow while celebrating St. Patty’s Day! 🙂

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Imagine that you are lying in a field of grass and shamrocks.
Let your body relax and get very heavy,
Letting the ground hold you.
Now imagine that it starts to rain.
The raindrops are just the right temperature.
Not too cold, and not too warm.
Imagine that as the raindrops fall on your body, They help you relax even more.
Feel the raindrops falling on your toes and feet,

And feel them relax.
Now feel the rain on your legs,
And let them relax too.
Feel the rain on your belly.
And feel the rain falling on your arms,
On your hands,
And on your fingertips.
Feel each body part relax.

The rain falls on your head and face.
Each raindrop washes away your fear or worries.
Feel your whole body relaxed and calm.
The rain slowly stops,
And a colorful rainbow appears in the sky:
Red… orange…yellow…green…blue…indigo… And purple.
Imagine following the rainbow until it ends.
What do you see?

Green rolling hills?
A pot of gold, shimmering in the sunlight?
Maybe even a Leprechaun, dancing in green?
Now follow the rainbow back to your resting spot in the grass.
Watch the rainbow until the colors slowly fade away,
And enjoy how relaxed and calm your body feels.

Relaxation story from: http://www.ImaginationsForKids.com


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Cotton Ball Hockey & Cotton Ball Races

These are both fun and easy activity for kiddos! I was introduced to do the first game last semester by one of my professors. Both activities are only two of the many activities from Theraplay, a form of play therapy that can be used with children and families. The goals of Theraplay include building and enhancing attachment, self-esteem, trust in others, and engagement. Check out the Theraplay website to learn more about this creative & innovative organization!

My kids know exactly what the cotton balls & straws in my play tote are for and often times they ask to play the following games. Both activities can be used with classrooms or for individual/group counseling.

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1-Cotton Ball Hockey Directions:

*Materials: One straw per person, one cotton ball per pair.

Divide students into pairs (if doing with a group or in a classroom). Have each pair sit at opposite ends of a table. Instruct students to begin by placing the cotton ball in the middle of the table. You can give the group the “go” or each pair can be in charge of deciding when to start playing hockey. Students simply blow (using straws) cotton balls back and forth trying to get the cotton ball to the opposite end of the table. If the cotton ball falls off the table (opposite to where one child is sitting) they “score a goal.” Students are not allowed to used their hands, unless picking up the cotton ball from the ground. 🙂

Here is another Theraplay activity. I have only done this one with my kids at an after school program, so we have the luxury of using the hallway or gym when it is free. 🙂 This activity requires a little more space than the first just as an FYI!

2-Cotton Ball Race Directions:

Materials: One straw & one cotton ball per student

Students all line up (or have them divide into teams dependent upon how many you have) at a starting point.  (Note: make sure there is a little room between each student, as they do not typically end up staying in a straight line once they begin blowing their cotton balls.) Students are on their hands and knees, with their cotton ball placed on the ground in front of them. Provide students with a “finish line.” Tell them that once you’ve said “go,” their goal is to make it to the finish line by blowing their cotton ball with their straw (no using hands!). Encourage students to be mindful of other students around them!

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Sounds simple, right? Your kids/teens (yes, teens!) will love these playful activities! Have fun! As always, let me know if you have any questions. 🙂


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Noticing our Kindness: Individual/Group Mindfulness Activity

I was inspired by this activity after looking over some exercises in a book I borrowed from one of my professors. The book is titled, “Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids” by Eline Snel. It’s a small book with simple mindfulness practices for children. I pulled this idea from the chapter titled “It’s Good to Be Kind.” The activity is intended to help children notice their kindness and unkindness. The author suggests having children put a bracelet on their right wrist, which symbolizes their kindness towards others and themselves. Whenever they observe themselves being “thoughtless, unkind or genuinely unpleasant,” they should move their bracelet to their other wrist. This then makes a child become more aware of their acts of unkindness. Others do not interfere with this process by pointing out what the child did or should have done, but rather school counselors/teachers/parents allow the child to recognize their behavior on their own.

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Seems so simple, but powerful…I will keep you updated on my process with this as I am going to expand on this next week when I meet with one of my third grade girls individually. She is having a difficult time making and keeping friends, often times because of her struggle to be kind and respectful towards other students and classmates. My thinking is that we will create a “friendship bracelet” together. We will talk more about being kind to others, and then I will encourage her to use her friendship bracelet throughout the week as the author of “Sitting Like a Frog” proposed in her book. I will of course challenge myself to do the same, because we can all work on being kinder to ourselves, right? 🙂

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With that said, take time to recognize your kindness as we come to the end of the week. How were you kind to others this week, and most importantly, how were you kind to yourself?  ::Be well:: -Jessica